Jimmy Carter speaking at the Israeli Council of Foreign Relations in Jerusalem on April 21, 2008
Hamas would accept a deal creating a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip if it was approved by Palestinians in a vote, former US President Jimmy Carter said on April 21 after talks with Hamas leaders. Carter said he had "no doubt that both the Arab world and the Palestinians, including Hamas, will accept Israel's right to live in peace" within pre-1967 war borders.
But some of Hamas's commitments to Carter, in talks he held with the Islamist group's top leader Khaled Meshaal in Damascus, were short on details and remarks by a Gaza-based Hamas official suggested the movement was not abandoning long-held positions.
In a speech, Carter said he heard from Hamas leaders they would "accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders if approved by Palestinians." He was referring to the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip and a referendum on a deal Washington hopes to clinch this year. "It means that Hamas will not undermine (Palestinian President Mahmoud) Abbas's efforts to negotiate an agreement and Hamas will accept an agreement if the Palestinians support it in a free vote," he said.
But Carter said Meshaal, whom he met on Friday (April 18, 2008) and Saturday (April 19, 2008) and telephoned on Monday (April 21, 2008) over US and Israeli objections, turned down his appeal for a unilateral ceasefire with Israel to end violence threatening peace efforts. "I did the best I could on that," Carter said of his failure to persuade Hamas to halt rocket fire from the Gaza Strip.
The Nobel peace prize laureate stopped short of saying he obtained a clear commitment from Hamas to recognize Israel's right to exist, one of the conditions set by Western powers to deal with the group. He said his understandings with Hamas called for a referendum to be preceded by reconciliation between the group and Abbas's Fatah faction. Hamas seized the Gaza Strip from Fatah in June and Abbas has demanded the territory's return.
Gaza-based Hamas official Sami Abu Zuhri said Palestinian refugees living in exile must take part in a referendum -- a condition that could dim the chances of approval since Israel opposes their mass return to what is now the Jewish state.
Abu Zuhri also noted Hamas would see any future Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip as "transitional." Speaking later to reporters, Carter said Hamas leaders whom he met "didn't say anything about transitional." Unlike Abbas, who sought a Palestinian state side-by-side with the Jewish state, Abu Zuhri said Hamas's outstanding position not to recognize Israel's right to exist remained unchanged despite its acceptance of a state in 1967 borders.
Carter, who helped negotiate a 1979 peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, said excluding Hamas, which the United States, Israel and the European Union brand a terrorist group, "is just not working." Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has refused to see Carter, who has been critical of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians, during a regional visit that began on April 13.
"We believe that the problem is not that I met Hamas in Syria," Carter said in his address to the Israel Council on Foreign Relations. "The problem is that Israel and the United States refuse to meet with these people, who must be involved."
Israel pulled troops and settlers out of the Gaza Strip in 2005 but still controls its borders and has tightened its restrictions on the enclave since Hamas's takeover.
Carter said he proposed to Meshaal a rapid exchange of prisoners between Israel, which is holding more than 11,000 Palestinians, and Hamas, which along with other militant groups captured an Israeli soldier in 2006 on the Gaza border. He said Meshaal turned down his proposal. Egypt is trying to mediate a wider prisoner exchange that would include an easing of an Israeli border blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Carter said he was told by Egypt's intelligence chief that Israel had agreed to free 1,000 prisoners, but had accepted only 71 names on a roster presented by Hamas. "This can go on interminably," Carter cautioned. (Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Adam Entous) (Courtesy: New York Times, April 21, 2008)
Washington Post Piece: No Peace without Hamas
Carter Meets Hamas Chief